A huge number of primary school children have seen online content that encouraged them to harm themselves, an NSPCC study has found.
In its report, How safe are our children? 2019: an overview of data on child abuse online, the children’s charity interviewed children across the UK on the subject of online safety. The study revealed that 16% of primary school children and 19% of secondary school students have been exposed to online content that promoted self-harm.
In addition, 16% of secondary school students said that they have often seen sexual content in reviews of the “most popular social networks, apps and games” – 31% also admitted to seeing “worrying” or “nasty” content online.
Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “Right now, internet companies are a black box that nobody on the outside world is allowed to open. Many don’t publish any details about the scale and scope of the dangers children have been facing on their platforms. Despite calls for openness, they stay silent.”
The report documents the year-on-year increase in the numbers and rates of police-recorded online child sexual offences in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Furthermore, there have been increases in police-recorded offences of obscene publications or indecent photos in all four UK nations over the last five years. The number of URLs containing child sexual abuse imagery since 2015 has also risen significantly.
Libby, 16, spoke out about how she used social media channels to promote her self-harming. Her father, Ian, said that images were reported to Instagram; however, the social media company did nothing. The NSPCC highlighted that the majority of parents, carers and members of the public believe that social networks should have a legal responsibility to keep children safe on their platforms.
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Wanless agreed with parents’ concerns, adding: “We’re seeking a convincing demonstration of a duty of care to young users, so the internet can genuinely be a place that benefits us all. Nothing will concentrate minds better than effective sanctions for the tech giants who fail to take reasonable steps to protect our children.”
He also emphasised that the “penalties” social media companies face should be substantial. “Named directors need to be liable for their actions and inactions,” he said. “In other industries, like financial services, this is now accepted practice in terms of expecting and enforcing responsible corporate behaviour.”
More disturbingly, NSPCC’s report also revealed that young children who were exposed to sexual online images were sometimes being preyed upon by adults. Girls aged 11 to 18 said they had received a request for a sexual image or message. In addition, 5% of those surveyed said they had been sent or shown a naked or semi-naked picture or video from an adult. 4% of primary school children have also been sent or shown such an image.
2% of surveyed primary and secondary school children said they had sent a naked or semi-naked picture or video to an adult.